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The Danger with White Tears

At the time of this article’s publication, Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges. For those unaware, Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old white nationalist who left his home in Illinois to “defend” a car dealership in Kenosha, Wisconsin from the Black Lives Matter protest that was taking place during the summer of 2020. While at the protest Rittenhouse, murdered two people and injured one by shooting with his rifle. While I could focus on his affinity for the blue lives matter group, our problematic criminal “justice” system, or have a conversation about gun violence, there is another conversation I would like to elicit. 

The internet has spread the video of Rittenhouse crying on the witness stand. While many have called him melodramatic, in its usual fashion, the internet has taken to creating memes and “funny” posts about his tears. Yet, whether you believe it to be melodramatic or not, what the media won’t capture is the very real danger that is white tears. Therefore, this article will not be centered around him because make no mistake, Kyle Rittenhouse is not the first, nor will he be the last white person to employ the weapon of white tears. 

White tears is a phrase that most often is used by Black and other nonwhite communities to describe the complaints that white people make whenever their racial privilege is threatened. Furthermore, white tears are often evoked when white people are called to be held accountable for their problematic behavior. I know one too many Black people (myself included) who can recall class discussions in which a white peer has said something racist, and when called out for it, immediately began to tear up. Thus, not only diverting attention from the racist action at hand but making the Black person the villain and the white person the victim. In the end, the very real pain and verbal violence inflicted on the nonwhite peer goes unacknowledged.

However, this tactic is nothing new, and to experience it on an academic platform unfortunately is one of the safer case scenarios. White tears, like white rage, is a tactic of white supremacy that is used to vilify and, in some instances, lead to the killing of Black people. White tears are what murdered Emmit Till, leaving his body unrecognizable and only for his assailant to admit decades later that she had lied. White tears have historically called for lynchings, have barred integrated schooling, and the ballot box. White tears come from the slightest inconvenience of lost sporting games, leading to the destruction of property and the flipping of cars. Yet when Black people do the same in the name of social justice, all feelings are invalidated. 

Marginalized folks don’t have time for such tears when the legitimate cries from those in marginalized communities aren’t taken seriously and are still too often the result of whiteness. Because society still responds to white tears before, they meaningfully answer to the cries of Black people especially. When will we place value on the tears of Black mothers and fathers who lose their children to acts of police brutality? What about the tears of every Black woman and girl that faces racialized sexual violence? 

White tears can be repeated again and again, and their reign of terror leaves a slew of Black bodies and trauma behind. But when it’s all said and done, the tissues are out to wipe them away. Black bodies cannot continue to fall at the hands of such tears, nor can racial trauma continue to be felt as a result of such either. So dear white people, the next time you think about crying, think about whose tears are unaccounted for. 

Lina Tate

George Mason University '22

Lina is majoring in Government and International Politics with a concentration in Political Behavior & Identity Politics, with a minor in Social Justice and Human Rights. Around campus, you can often find her giving tours to prospective students. She has a knack for music and television. In her free time, she tries to catch-up on the neglected books on her bookshelf!
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